If there is anyone who can share some wisdom on the art of downsizing, it’s my friend Marsee. In the 41 years she and Mike have been married, they have moved a whopping 18 times. A few years ago, they decided it was time to downsize. So they sold their lovely 100-year-old Tudor home (featured in my book Rooms We Love) and bought a townhome just off of Kansas City’s historic Country Club Plaza.
Marsee is thrilled with so many facets of their smaller home. With no yard to care for, and a lot less house to keep up with, they have more time to explore all the city has to offer, from art exhibits to entertainment. Their neighborhood is in the center of it all, and they can walk to shopping, the gym, the library and area parks.
While the outcome is usually satisfying, the process of downsizing can be painful. I asked Marsee to share some of her secrets. Here’s her advice:
Love it or leave it.
When you have a lot less space to live in, you have to make some tough decisions about what will follow you to your new home. Marsee didn’t want the rooms in her new home to be packed full, so she made some tough choices early on, determined to only keep the furniture, artwork and accents that she absolutely could not live without.
Give your extra treasures to those you love.
When Marsee and Mike started out as newlyweds, she remembers how family members helped them outfit their first homes, giving them furniture and other pieces that had been passed down through the generations. She wanted to do the same for her son and daughter-in-law, and other family members.
Once Todd and Brooke picked the family pieces they wanted for their own home, Marsee and Mike loaded them up in a 17-foot Penske truck they nicknamed Big Al and drove the furniture to Arizona. As Marsee shared the story of each piece, Brooke recorded it in a notebook. Now, Marsee says, the couple can start creating their own stories with the heirlooms.
Rethink where your furnishings go.
So often, we get in a rut with our decorating. For example, if a piece of art hung over your fireplace mantel for years, you can’t imagine it anywhere else. When she downsized, Marsee moved a lot of furnishing and accents to new places. For example, the chairs and table that once filled her kitchen’s breakfast nook are now library furniture in their home office, pictured above.
Live in the space awhile before you make final decorating decisions.
When Marsee first moved into the townhome, she thought she wanted a keep her décor very edited. This would be a change for this talented decorator, who has taught me so much about designing layered displays. Interestingly enough, after she lived in the townhome for a few months, she missed the feel of more complex tableaus on her tables. She pulled some of her favorites out of storage and bought a few new pieces and got busy layering.
Discover how to live in your smaller space.
Marsee and Mike love to entertain. But they were not going to be able to accommodate the same number of guests, in the same way, in their smaller townhome. So Marsee began to rethink how they entertained. Instead of having guests congregate in the kitchen or living room, she wanted them to move about the entire home. The table in the photo above, set with appetizers, in right by her front door. She also coaxes guests up to the third floor office by setting up drinks and snacks in the space.
Anne saysJune 4, 2018 at 8:23 am
I am very fortunate to have a niece with a lovely large home and taste similar to mine. Over the years, I have given many well-loved furniture pieces and decorative items to her. Whenever I visit, I get to enjoy these items all over again, very comforting.
Suzanne saysJune 4, 2018 at 10:30 am
We looked at downsizing as an adventure for our next stage of life and renovated a precious 100+ year old home. It was exciting for us to see our treasures in a much smaller place and our most difficult task of how to keep several sets of family China was solved with a built-in cabinet. My biggest regret is parting with a small portion of my blue and white collection. Our adult son commented on his first visit that he wished he could have grown up in this house. The best compliment ever!
Victoria Jacob saysJune 4, 2018 at 11:07 am
Thank you for sharing… my husband I live in Wichita . 3 years ago we made the same decision and moved from a large Tudor in College Hill to a Patio home community. We love it as well! Marsee it is so nice to hear you to wanted a clean space in the beginning. I did too. Then I began to missed what I have learned of layering over the years. Mostly from Charles Faudree and Nell Hill books and of course shopping Nell Hill. ( always a treat❣️) Thank you again. I will see if I have some pictures of our patio home an seen them to you
Leesa Avila saysJune 4, 2018 at 1:44 pm
I’ve shopped in your store for many years before mining to Minnesota. We have recently downsized to a townhome as well. I too waited before making final decorating decisions. It drove my mother crazy. I wanted to live every corner in our new home. Thanks for a timely reminder.
Roseanne saysJune 14, 2019 at 11:52 am
Thank you for the article. I will b downsizing within the next year and am already agonizing over what to keep and what to part with. Considering reframing some art work for a new look for old treasures. I’ll keep all this information in mind.
Katie Laughridge saysJune 17, 2019 at 10:00 am
It is a hard process but so worth it! 🙂
Anna Belle Nihart saysJune 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm
My husband and I also downsized. Painful is an apt word. I moved all necessary items into the house. Everything else was set up in our garage-accessories on and below tables. I was back and forth removing, replacing, sometimes returning items as I shipped my garage. It took about 6 months, but I was satisfied. I didn’t want to store anything as I thought it would be downsize cheating. Everything else went to new owners.
Jill saysJune 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm
My husband and I first combined two homes when we sold our Florida home then built our dream home and downsized by two bedrooms and a half bath. We gifted furniture, housewares and art to our twenty something grandchildren and donated others to charities. Previously, we sold furniture through garage sales and Craigslist and had positive experiences. Friends have used estate sale girms and have also been pleased.
sandy mccune saysJune 4, 2018 at 4:42 pm
Love this post. I hope Victoria sends some photos. We are thinking about downsizing, too. I’m also a fan of you and Charles F. Have every book you both wrote. I think someone could start a business helping people get rid of their “pretties” that they don’t use or see anymore. But first we need to find a place we like that we can afford. Please write more columns with ideas for people who want to go “smaller”.
Me. Ivy saysJune 4, 2018 at 7:24 pm
My mantra was to only take furniture that had storage capabilities. Sorry piecrust table. Loved you for years, but now I need drawers.
M saysJune 5, 2018 at 6:23 am
Wow! I have followed you for years. I remember pictures of Marsee’s previous home. This is a huge change. Good for her! Her new home looks gorgeous! Easy to do when one has great taste & gorgeous things!
Christy foster saysJune 5, 2018 at 7:48 am
Marsee at her finest…..again! I had the pleasure of meeting Marsee while they lived in Wichita, Kansas. Not only was her home absolutely fabulous……she is fabulous and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met!
Bonnie G. saysAugust 28, 2018 at 10:30 am
Hello, I found your post today and this advice is so timely! We are downsizing to be closer to our grandchildren and to enjoy retirement with thirty-nine years of furniture, some antiques, and art, etc. It is no small task to sort and decide what to keep and what to part with, not to mention the emotion attached to the memories, however I have decided to be selective and somewhat ruthless in paring down. There will be life after purging!
MaryP saysMay 20, 2019 at 11:17 am
My husband and I sold our farm after being there 20 years. I had many family pieces ,including my aunts Victorian dining set. We hastily bought an adorable 1949 cape. I couldn’t get up to the 2nd floor because of medical issues. Neighbors were a horror. I never unpacked. Sold it and found a small 1955 ranch in a tiny rural village. Very quiet and safe. I sold and donated a huge amount of my treasures. It was painful. I can care for the house easily and the small yard. My new friends all experienced the same thing
Janet saysJune 2, 2019 at 12:40 pm
My husband and I downsized in December 2018. It was a scary thought but has been fun utilizing furniture in different areas. We have been in this smaller house for 6 months and I am still moving things around and pulling more things out to use. I really liked the way Marsee layered instead of editing down to a few pieces. I love that style of decorating and hope I can develop a plan to add more without creating a cluttered look.
Lynn saysOctober 26, 2019 at 4:34 pm
My husband’s widowed mother passed away in 2017. She had lived in the same home for 61 years. Clearing out all of her “treasures” was painful for us. It was a good exercise for our own upcoming downsizing expected to take place within the next several years. Among her six granddaughters not one was interested in owning any more crystal, silver or china. This is now commonplace in many families. Another good lesson for me. My adult children both live out of the country and so must live in small spaces. I cannot plan to pass along my treasures to them. For now I’ll just enjoy what I have and learn to disavow any more antiquing!